Album Review: Jesse O’Neill – “Talkin’ Paradox Blues”
Jesse O’Neill is a New York-based acoustic blues/folk singer-songwriter and guitarist. The very first time that I saw Jesse O’Neill’s name was in Corina Corina‘s first album, The Eargasm, when he played guitar on her song “Dear Amy”. Then, I heard and reviewed the Max Caddy album (a collaborative project between Jesse and Corina Corina), which I loved and still find myself listening to every now-and-then.
In 2014, Jesse O’Neill released his first EP, called Sleepwalking Sessions, and it was a 4-track, all-acoustic project that can be likened to the work he did in Max Caddy. He released a brand new album this year, in October, titled Talkin’ Paradox Blues, and it has a lot more instrumentation and genres wrapped into it. I’m here to review it today.
01. BY THE RIVER
The song opens with a grungy guitar, with head-nodding, foot-tapping drums provided by Brian Chiappinelli. Jesse’s bluesy-folk vocals come in, leading the way as he sings about life in a cold, mean city, growing up by the river, and wondering if it will always be that way. At least, that’s what I’ve gathered from it. I like the frustration and instrumentation in this song a lot. “I was born by the river about one hundred miles north // Will I die by the river? Will nature run her course? // Good god, why you treat me so mean? // Worst damn friend that I ever did seen // I was raised by the river.”
02. YOU CAN LEAD
Transitioning from the mid-range tempo and somber mood of the first song, this one is short and happy. The tempo is fast-paced with a speedy string strumming, hand-thumping on a drum by Meredith Butterworth, and it’s a little folk duet with familiar collaborator Corina Corina. It’s one of those songs that you turn on when you’re feeling sad, to remind you not to give up and that you are in control of your own life. I can just picture the two of them on stage, facing each other in two little wooden chairs, with smiles spread across their faces as they’re singing this joyous little ditty. My only gripe would be that I wish it were a little longer, but other than that, it’s a fine song.
03. MENTAL PATIENCE
I like the storytelling songwriting and message on this one. Jesse sings a folk song about two people–a man whose led a hard, dark life and a lost girl whose life gets derailed by a car crash–that look loneliness and struggle in the face, choosing to turn a negative into a positive (“and it’s all good, baby baby!” /end Biggie lyric). The message is that no one can save you but yourself; you are the key piece that can turn your life around for the better. And, although you may feel alone in the moment, you are surely not alone in those situations, nor in this thing we call life. Maybe they heard “You Can Lead” in their dark moments…
From the chorus: “You will get hit over the head, you’re not alone // And everything that comes to pass, you’ll make your own // This woe wasn’t meant to be // This woe wasn’t meant for me”
04. WAYWARD THOUGHTS
WHOA! This hit me by total surprise. There’s a hint of blues here, but it’s nearly all rock-and-roll goodness! Some aggressive drumming (by Brian Chiappinelli), with Jesse really going at it on the guitar. There are only two lines in the lyrics (“My wayward thoughts, they come to me // And I know I’m in good company“), but this song really reminds me of 90’s alternative rock (like Nirvana), and I love it. Especially, because it shows his range and talent, how he can easily switch between blues, folk, and rock. I don’t even need this less-than-2-minutes song to be longer, it’s good just the way it is. You go, Jesse!
05. N’ORLEANS TOWN
First things first, I love the horns on this (played by a fellow named Jon Lampley). Second, Jesse told me that track two (“You Can Lead”) is practically a Max Caddy song, but I think this one has more of a Max Caddy feel, even though Corina Corina only has a brief moment on it at the end. The bluesy-soul vibe, the warmth in Jesse’s vocals, the way he sings with emotion and soul being felt in the highs and lows of his voice, and the song structuring… all of that reminds me of Max Caddy. Back to song structuring, I really like that the chorus is so repetitive, being sung every few bars, because the lyrics (and hearing them so frequently) really give off this feeling of comfort, camaraderie, and this loving appreciation for the town. “Come with me brother, come with me sister; take me back to N’Orleans Town // Come with me brother, come with me sister; don’t let me lose what I’ve found.”
The songwriting is very poetic, and although there’s this happy vibe and fun visual illustration of New Orleans, between the lines there’s melancholy that I hear, like he’s saying goodbye to a friend, or a lost love, while trying to reinvigorate the feeling he once had in the city. This song is definitely one of my favorites on here.
06. LONG WAY HOME
Nothing wrong with being greeted with the sweet squeal of a harmonica, guitar strumming, clapping, and two men singing a country-folk song about having a damn good time and a long-lasting friendship. That’s exactly what this song is, with Jesse O’Neill on vocals and guitar, and Stephen Artemis on vocals, guitar, and harmonica. I like it, and it’s also a tribute song to Tupac (at the end, you just might recognize those Tupac lyrics).
“I’ve been taking the long way home // Getting myself lost all in these streets; walking to my beat // It’s a long way home // But you’ll be there for me.”
07. YOU’RE GOING TO MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE
The somber, deep notes of the guitar on this song made me let out a “whew!” Without words spoken, you can sense the emotional pain in the playing. It’s a 10-minute song, largely instrumental (with drums by Brian Chiappinelli, once again), that slowly rises from a somber blues crawl to a rock-and-roll number, and WOW, IT’S SO GOOD. Towards the middle, it slows down again, but only briefly, so Jesse can sing some very sad lyrics about death and regret: “You’re going to miss me when I’m gone, it won’t be long // You’re going to wonder where I am, what time I’ve spent // You’re going to wish I was around, won’t make a sound // I know”
This song fades out into silence for quite awhile, but don’t stop listening, because at the very end, you’ll hear a personal voicemail clip that might’ve been the inspiration for this song.
This album is nearly perfect, and after listening to it all the way through, I had to buy it. I just had to. I had to have it in my digital library, to listen at any given moment, without having to have an internet connection to find it on Bandcamp. Plus, you gotta support those whose music you like, so big ups, Jesse! My favorite songs would be “Mental Patience”, “Wayward Thoughts”, “N’Orleans Town”, “Long Way Home” and “You’re Going To Miss Me When I’m Gone”. Listen to the album below, and purchase it from Bandcamp (for $7), iTunes (for $9.99), or Amazon (for $6.93).